In project management, there is a term known as scope creep. This term simply means the growth of a project beyond the project charter. In the project definition stage, the project team will define the boundaries of the project in terms of what the project’s main accomplishments will be. Scope creep happens when other project teams see opportunities to plug their project requirements or desired accomplishments into your project. This happens at every level of an organization as project teams experience a reduction or increase in one or more of the project management constraints.
In a balanced project, the three constraints are of equal weight and equal importance. Projects such as these are rare in the business environment. In today’s environment, projects suffer a lack of resources and time. This results in the scope having to be reduced to a minimum achievement level. Remember, I am talking about a balanced project. Figure 1 captures the dynamics of a balanced project constraints continuum. The Equilateral Triangle represents an adequate balance between financial resources, time for completion and targets of achievement.
In this case, the time and costs are appropriate for the scope of the project. The scope and time are appropriate for the costs. The costs and scope are appropriate for the time. When pressure is applied to one or more of the constraints, the second and or third constraint is impacted. As costs increase, the scope must be scaled back to contain costs. As the time is decreased the scope must be reduced to ensure achievement. Increasing the time will result in the costs increasing thus forcing the scope to be reduced to contain costs.
There is a constant pushing and pulling of these constraints as project teams consider the variables associated with their projects. Scope creep inevitably increases time and costs. While working on a project, it is not uncommon for other project groups to look for ways to decrease costs by shifting the scope of their project to other project groups doing similar business operations. This shifting of scope increases the challenges associated with project achievement.
Once you understand these realities within the business world, you can make a direct application to your life. Consider every activity in terms of a project to be accomplished. From the basic to the complex, recognizing how these three constraints interact with the requirements set forth in your life, you will begin to allocate your time and financial resources differently.
Let’s say that you have developed a goal to travel to seven different destinations out West. You save for eight years so that your vacation will not financially follow you home (in other words, you plan on paying cash). You have determined the scope of this project. You have factored in the lodging costs, fuel expenses, and the food and entertainment expenses for your trip. You have determined where you will stop and what you will see. The day of your trip arrives and, wouldn’t you know it, the cost of lodging is higher than expected. On top of that, fuel costs and groceries have risen along with the cost of lodging. This increase in costs results in the need to reduce either the scope and or the duration of your trip.
Let’s assume that by some miraculous chain of events your lodging costs have not risen. However, in all of your planning activities you failed to consider construction activities on your route and bad weather conditions. In order to achieve your goals of traveling West and viewing the seven tourists’ attractions, you have to add time to your trip. Adding time increases your costs because the detours add mileage, which adds fuel costs, and delays in arriving at your scheduled destinations means unplanned costs for meals and lodging requirements.
How would this look on a project management triangle of constraints? The scope remains unchanged, while the time and costs increase. In order to shift this project back to a balanced model you would have to reduce the scope of the trip by dropping the opportunity to enjoy the tourist attractions that are located the furthest from your starting location. By doing this, your time requirement is shortened and the overall cost of the trip is reduced.
These three constraints occur every day as you participate in life. Although you might not think in these terms, every activity you participate in has some level of time, scope, and financial constraint. When a specific activity appears to not have a cost associated with it, you must define costs as actual or opportunity costs. Let’s look at the constraints associated with the activity of walking. Does walking two miles require time? Yes. Does walking two miles include a scope? Yes, two miles. Does walking two miles prohibit you from participating in other activities that are associated with generating income? Yes. Therefore, you have the element of time, the element of scope, and the element of opportunity cost. If you increase your scope (distance) you must increase your time and opportunity cost.
Going back to the example of the vacation out West, let’s look at another possible scenario. Let’s say that as you are traveling out West, you pass a tourist attraction that was not on your itinerary. You make the decision to make an unplanned stop thus increasing the scope of your travel project. When the scope increases, your costs will likely increase. However, your time factor will need to decrease for the other planned activities if you are to maintain your schedule. Scope creep in this scenario elevates costs and reduces time. If you decide to maintain all of the scheduled activities, your time constraint would have to increase, thus increasing your costs.
This reality of time, costs, and scope permeates every facet of your life. If you can begin to think in these terms, you will begin to measure your life and make better decisions. Every decision has intended and unintended consequences. Every decision has direct and indirect results. Understanding that an action impacting one aspect of the project management constraints impacts all aspects will help you be more focused on profitable decisions. To be efficient and effective in this process you must guard against scope creep. Do not allow other people’s projects to change the scope of yours.
This does not mean that you should not take the time to assist others who will benefit from your gifts, talents, and resources. You should certainly develop activities where the time, scope, and costs are set apart for those specific purposes. However, when executing your strategic life plan you need to guard against scope creep. You should manage your costs to maximize your profits. You should manage your time to maximize your efficiencies and create space in your life. You should manage your scope to maximize your sustainability and growth.